Wednesday 21 February 2018

Review: The Lord of the Rings Symphony, NCH Dublin

Howard Shore
Howard Shore

Pat O'Kelly

Toronto-born composer Howard Shore is probably best-known for his blockbuster film scores, many of which come under the aegis of famed directors such as David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese.

However, Shore's achievement with Peter Jackson in his adaptation of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy has been nothing short of epic, earning him three Academy Awards.

On a rare visit to Dublin, the first performance here of his The Lord of the Rings Symphony is the focal point of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra's celebratory programme of Shore's music. Scored for large orchestra – the ensemble is augmented to 90-plus players – the symphony also demands adult and children's chorus as well as solo voices.

What we get, under the baton of Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki, are movements lasting about 45 minutes from the longer but already pared down arrangement of the original mammoth 10-hour film score.

Using motifs from each of the three movie instalments of JRR Tolkien's saga, the symphony is sewn together quite seamlessly into a richly illuminated instrumental and vocal kaleidoscope.

But Shore's extravagant scoring, including Hungarian cimbalom, Japanese taiko drums and Tibetan gongs as well as tin whistle (hobbits appear to reside in an Ó Riada-esque Celtic twilight), can be honed down to haunting violin and oboe solos and dancing clarinet duos. Still, a problem arises for me with the concluding 'Into the West' lament. Its music, originally written by Shore in collaboration with singer Annie Lennox, is in a different mould to what precedes it and sounds out of place in this symphonic context even with earthy-toned solo mezzo Clara Sanabras.

Maestro Wicki, who has developed winning rapport with Store's imaginative score, elicits brilliant attack from his choral voices – DIT, Trinity and RTÉ's Cór na nÓg – and instrumentalists with the RTÉCO's brass particularly emblazoned.

The rest of this Shore tribute covers some of his non-film music. An overlong organ and brass 'Fanfare' leads to rather dreary 'Pieces for Chamber Orchestra', with Ms Sanabras vocalising in two of them, but his 'Mystic Gardens' Cello Concerto proves an engaging, if also prolix, work.

The expressively rhapsodic three movements find RTÉCO principal cellist Emma-Jane Murphy no less sensitive in her effortlessly flowing interpretation. Inspired by three classical Italian gardens, the Concerto explores a more rarefied atmosphere than the weirdly exotic world of elves and orcs.

Irish Independent

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